When a baby is shaken so hard that her brain is injured, an attentive caregiver or health care provider should recognize signs of brain damage almost immediately. However, the initial indications of brain damage might only be the tip of the iceberg in terms of the permanent impact the injury will have on the baby.
As a dedicated child abuse and child injury attorney in Michigan, Michael Behm understands the life-long effects of shaken baby syndrome and the importance of helping the child get the resources she will need to face the challenges that lie ahead.
What Is Shaken Baby Syndrome?
Make no mistake—shaking a baby to the point of brain injury is no accident. It is a serious form of child abuse and the most common cause of child abuse death in children under the age of five. Any caregiver—from a parent or grandparent to a teenage babysitter—could be guilty of harming a baby in this way out of frustration or anger, particularly when a baby won’t stop crying.
The term shaken baby syndrome refers to the way in which the infant was injured rather than to a specific injury. In fact, the child could have sustained any of the following injuries:
- Subdural hematoma. Tears to the veins that run between the brain and the membrane surrounding the brain can cause bleeding on the surface of the brain. The pressure caused by the collection of blood can impact brain function.
- Subarachnoid hemorrhage. Bleeding in the space surrounding the brain can cause permanent brain damage if it is not discovered and treated immediately. Because an infant can’t complain of a headache, it can be very difficult to diagnose in babies.
- Direct trauma to the brain. When the brain strikes the inner surface of the skull, brain tissue can be damaged, resulting in permanent losses related to the function of that area of the brain.
- Diffuse axonal injury. When the baby’s head snaps back and forth while being shaken, the branches of nerve cells known as axons can be sheared off, resulting in permanent brain damage.
- Oxygen deprivation. If the baby’s airway is cut off when the neck is violently jerked, the lack of oxygen to the brain can cause further permanent brain damage.
- Retinal hemorrhages. Violent shaking can also cause damage to multiple layers of the retina in the eye, causing permanently impaired vision.
- Skull fracture. Babies who are shaken by abusers are often also thrown down onto a bed, table, or floor. Because their skulls are so soft, they can easily be fractured by the impact.
- Other broken bones. Squeezing a baby’s tiny arms or torso while shaking them can result in broken ribs or bones in the arms.
Infants who cannot yet support their own heads are most vulnerable to the worst impacts of being shaken by an adult.
Symptoms of Shaken Baby Syndrome
Anyone who has a baby in their life should be aware of the signs that a baby has been shaken violently. While there may not be any obvious physical signs of injury, such as cuts or bruises, babies with brain injuries often exhibit the following symptoms:
- Decreased appetite
- Lethargy and irritability
- Inability to lift their head
- Inability to track with their eyes
- Breathing problems
- Convulsions or seizures
These symptoms can appear immediately after the incident and often peak about four to six hours afterward. If the baby was out of your care before exhibiting these symptoms, it is vital to get them to a pediatric emergency room as soon as possible. While these symptoms should be apparent right away, other effects of shaken baby syndrome, such as attention and behavior disorders, might not appear until the child is older.
What Happens When a Doctor Fails to Recognize the Signs?
Doctors, nurses, and other health care providers are mandated reporters in Michigan, meaning if they treat a baby for a brain injury and don’t report suspected shaken baby syndrome to the authorities, they could be held financially accountable if the child is injured again after leaving their care. In many situations, the baby’s only caregiver is also the abuser, so the only way Child Protective Services can step in and do their job is if a doctor who sees the child reports the injury to CPS. Teachers and day care providers are also mandated reporters, and they should report changes in an infant’s health and behavior as potential shaken baby syndrome as well.
Contact Michigan’s Shaken Baby Syndrome Lawyer
A baby who has been abused by a caregiver cannot ask for help. If your baby or a baby you love has been injured by child abuse or neglect, contact child injury attorney Michael Behm to find out if he can help the child recover the money they will need to live as normal a life as possible. Mike understands the damage shaken baby syndrome causes, and he will do everything he can to help a baby who has been injured.